"This is by far the most comprehensive study to look at the genetic changes that make a woolly mammoth a woolly mammoth," study author Vincent Lynch, PhD, of the University of Chicago, said in a statement. "They are an excellent model to understand how morphological evolution works, because mammoths are so closely related to living elephants, which have none of the traits they had."
And while the woolly mammoth genome has been extensively studied (two other mammoths had their genes sequenced just this April) these efforts have typically only generated limited insight into how the animals evolved. However, in this study, the team found 1.4 million unique genetic variants affecting the proteins produced by some 1,600 genes. These results probably won't help scientists reconstruct a modern-day mammoth line (at least, not yet) but it will help geneticists better understand the the molecular basis of their evolution.
[Image Credit: Associated Press]